As we head into the final week of another year that has sailed by way too fast, we could use inspiring stories. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve come across a few of these stories, and this seems like the perfect time to share.

One happened after a college basketball game between the University of Houston Cougars and Alabama Crimson Tide. The players left the court and headed to their locker rooms. A player from Houston, in his anger and frustration at losing a close game 83-82, kicked over a garbage can, sending trash all over the floor. The player kept right on walking.

A teammate, a sophomore guard, was behind him, saw what he did, and stopped to clean up the mess. A camera crew from ESPN SportsCenter happened to catch everything on video. The video went viral, which is great because athletes are oftentimes in the news for bad behavior. Seeing this college player on video cleaning up someone else’s mess sent a good message.

While picking up trash may not seem like a big deal, it speaks to a person’s willingness to improve a situation instead of walking past it.

Another story came in the aftermath of the tornado that devastated Kentucky. A man from a few towns away from where the tornado touched down filled his truck with food, loaded his grill, and drove to where people lost their homes and businesses. He fired up his grill to feed people who didn’t have electricity, food or water by serving hot dogs, chicken and burgers for free.

Sometimes tragedies encourage people to step up and make a difference. The Oxford High School shooting in Michigan a few weeks ago killed four people, including a high school running back on the football team. In a pretty classy move, Michigan State included the player as an honorary member of its 2022 recruiting class for its football team. The move is symbolic and certainly won’t eliminate the pain for his family and community, but it’s a nice way to honor a high school student who died a hero when he reportedly tried to disarm an alleged shooter.

The next story is inspiring in a different way. It’s a reminder that we don’t always have what we want in life, but we can constantly improve if we’re innovative. A woman from San Francisco did the seemingly impossible. She started with a bobby pin, the kind used in your hair, and over about 18 months and 29 trades, turned that simple pin into a house.

She launched the “Trade Me Project” on social media to continuously up-trade items across platforms like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook. She started by swapping the bobby pin for costume jewelry, then for glasses, followed by a vacuum. Eventually she traded for higher-end items like a TV, MacBook Pro, real jewelry, then cars and tractors. Her last couple of swaps led to a trailer worth $40,000, which she traded for a small house near Nashville and moved in.

I heard this last story when my wife and I saw the ageless Marie Osmond in concert last Saturday. At one point in the show, her nephew, who follows the Osmond tradition of being a talented singer and performer, talked about being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). He was confined to a wheelchair before his symptoms abated and he could return to the stage.

He credited his faith and attitude for helping him regain his mobility. During the concert, both Marie and her nephew talked about struggles in daily life, with Marie breaking down in tears at one point. It was particularly emotional for us because my wife also suffers from MS. Unless someone has lived with a chronic condition or a deep loss, it’s hard to fully appreciate how difficult daily living can be, even if a person looks and acts like nothing’s wrong. Hearing people share their grief and challenges, and talk about never giving up hope, was inspiring.

These stories fit the narrative of what’s commonly called the Butterfly Effect. The basic premise is that small acts impact a much larger, more complex system. The idea is based on the theory that one tiny action, like a butterfly fluttering its wings, can lead to a series of events that result in a big change, like causing a tsunami.

Many businesses consider this theory because one mistake by one employee can set in motion changes that could lead to accidents or catastrophes, like power outages or system-wide network crashes.

But the Butterfly Effect can also have positive influences. One person inspiring another can lead to improvements in attitudes, approaches, and commitments that drive constructive change or offer hope, and make people like me strive to do better in our own lives.

Brett Martin is a columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.

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